Should I Become a Makeup Artist Or A Cosmetologist?

If you're passionate about fashion and style, chances are you've considered a career as a makeup artist and also a career as a cosmetologist. The two jobs have some similarities, but they require different training, and they present very different professional opportunities. So which is right for you?

Should I Become a Makeup Artist or a Cosmetologist

The post below will help you sort things out. We talk about licenses, job outlooks, and salaries. If you have any questions, throw 'em down there below in the "Comments" section.

Finally, a quick definition, for those who may not know: a cosmetologist is a hairdresser. He or she may have other responsibilities (some do nails, others do a little bit of makeup) but for the sake of this post, cosmetologist = hairdresser.

What is the Difference Between Cosmetology School and Makeup School?

Many people are a little confused about the difference between makeup school and cosmetology school, so that's a good place to start.

One Big Difference: Licensing

In every state in the United States, you need a license to become a cosmetologist. You need to go to a school that is recognized by the state, complete a training program that lasts a particular number of hours, then take a test to get your license. After all that, you can go out and get a job as a cosmetologist.

That's not true for makeup artists. At the time of this post, there is no state in the U.S. that requires makeup artists to get a license (permanent makeup artists may require one—permanent makeup is the application of colors or dyes on the skin that last for an extended period of time—but "permanent makeup" isn't what this site is about). That means you don't need to go to school to become a makeup artist, and you can basically start your career anytime you like. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to not needing a license. There are two main advantages:

  • You can start your career at any age, and you can create your own makeup artist company even if you don't have a high school diploma.
  • You don't have to spend money paying for training (more on that below).

And there are two disadvantages:

  • You can start your MUA career immediately, but... you might not be any good!
  • A license is proof to a potential employer that you have been trained... and you won't have a license!

Another Big Difference: COST

The cost of cosmetology schools varies widely. There are excellent cosmetology programs at community colleges (which can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000 or so) and there are excellent private cosmetology schools that cost, usually, between $6,000 and $15,000. Some super-fancy cosmetology schools may cost more than that, but you can estimate that your dues, depending on where you decide to go to cosmetology school, will be in the $2,000 to $15,000 range.

Makeup schools are different. Because states don't require makeup artists to get a license, they don't require makeup artist schools to teach a set curriculum. Therefore, a school can offer a class on mascara that lasts for a single afternoon and costs $50, or they can run a four-month long course on special effects makeup that costs $35,000 (seriously). There is a very, VERY wide range of costs at makeup artist programs.

And, remember—the education that you get at a makeup school will not enable you to get any kind of license in the beauty industry. If you go to a cosmetology school, you will be able to get a cosmetology degree and work at any salon or spa in the state. Upon graduating from a makeup school, you will not be able to get any kind of license, and it may be more difficult to find work.

One More Difference: Job Prospects

This is the biggest issue in the "cosmetologist vs. makeup artist" debate: there are a TON more jobs for cosmetologists. Like, not a few, but a ton.

If you think about it, there are probably a couple salons and spas in your town, and probably many in your broader area. With a cosmetology license, you could walk into any one of them and get a job. How many makeup salons are in your town? Probably not too many. If you become a cosmetologist, you will DEFINITELY have a career. If you become a makeup artist, you'll have to make your career.

For some people, creating their own career is INCREDIBLY exciting. They get to work on projects they're passionate about, meet fascinating people, and do work that they love.

But the simple truth is, going to a cosmetology school and getting a cosmetology degree is a much safer bet. If you decide to become a makeup artist, you have to really, really want it.

If becoming a cosmetologist is sounding like a good idea, check out our "Find a School" option above to learn about training programs in your area.

I'm Not Here Because I'm Looking For A Safe Bet. I'm Going To Be A MUA, And That's All There Is To It

That's the spirit! The world is yours. Check out our "You Can Do It" post if you need a pick-me-up, and remember us when you're rich and famous.

If you are certain—100% certain—that it is your destiny in life to become a makeup artist, AWESOME. If you are uncertain, we would suggest starting small. Work on some of your friends. Apply for jobs at a local makeup counter. Try to get hired for a few weddings. Make your own blog. Read all of our posts and maybe even contact us and write a guest post. We LOVE passionate people!!

Cosmetologist Salary vs. Makeup Artist Salary

Here's the thing: if you make it as a makeup artist, you can make a fantastic living.

Again, we don't want to give you false hope. A career as a cosmetologist is a much more safe living, and it's really hard to make it as an MUA. But if you do manage to break through as a MUA, you could be sitting pretty.

What Do You Find Most Fascinating?

Here's the question that everyone needs to ask themselves: what makes you happy? What brings you to life and makes you feel alive? What do you think about when you're daydreaming? What do you think about the most? What challenges seem to occupy your attention? Find out what that is—whether it's hairdressing, makeup, or molecular biology—and make that your career.

As they say—if you can find a way to make your passion into your career, you'll never work a day in your life.

So What Should I Do?

For most of us, career decisions are TOUGH! Some people have always known, "I will be a MUA / stylist / dressmaker / whatever." But for some of us, it can take a while to figure things out.

So don't stress too much about it. Take your time, weigh your options, figure out the decision that is both 1) best for you and 2) most satisfying. You'll come to the right decision.

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